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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Manny Pacquiao Ricky Hatton fight has parallels with Pancho Villa and Jimmy Wilde

Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton, a great British fighter and a Filipino master, meeting on US soil, is not unique. There are parallels, no less, with the fistic frenzy expected of Hatton v Pacquiao at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, on Saturday night.

Back in 1923, a contest took place between two formidable leading prize fighters pertaining from the British and Philippine islands, on neutral ground in the United States. In 1923, 'Pancho Villa' became the first Filipino world champion in history when he defeated Welshman Jimmy Wilde, at flyweight, in 1923, at the Polo Grounds, in New York.

Villa became a national hero, much like Pacquiao is today. What Villa tragically never had, however, was a long enough life to enjoy his successes. Wilde, known as 'The Mighty Atom', was small, pale and frail. But he possessed a hammer of a punch. He had worked in a colliery in the Rhondda Valley as a teenager, crawling into narrow gullies to draw out coal. It is an area where the men smoked 40 cigarettes a day, completed their shifts in the coal mines, and returned to the surface to box and play rugby as a form of rest. Even the voices resound like crushed coal.

Wilde had honed his ring skills in fairground boxing booths. Like his Filipino opponent, his size belied his power and strength. Like Wilde, 'Pancho Villa' - a sobriquet employed by Francisco Guilledo - had taken up boxing in 1917, aged 16. Standing 5ft 1in in his cotton socks, Villa rose to prominence in the sport after the United States army had exported boxing to the Philippines.

On June 18, 1923, at the Polo Grounds in New York, Villa, roared on by over 20,000 spectators knocked Wilde out in the seventh round. Wilde was down three times in the fight [fourth, fifth and seventh rounds], and never fought again.

When Villa secured the world flyweight title in 1923, in defeating Wilde, he was regarded, and still is in many historians' marks, as the greatest Asian fighter in boxing history, with a career record, excepting his 'no contests', of 92 wins (24 KOs), 8 losses, 4 draws. In almost a mirror-image of Pacquiao's 'pauper to prince' life story, Guilledo was born in Ilog, Negros Occidental, the son of a cowhand who abandoned his family when Guilledo was just six months old. He later stowed away on a boat bound for Manila, and began to box.

Villa defended his title several times and never relinquished it until his death just two years later. However, his life was to end very early, tragically, falling into a coma and passing away after a tooth infection. He was 23.

The fighting spirit of the young man who died as world flyweight champion, the first Filipino world champion, lives on today, in the formidable frame of Manny Pacquiao, the world's No 1 pound for pound prize fighter.


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